It's been a big year so far at the indie box office, though really only thanks to a handful of films -- and one "Grand" film in particular.
At this point in 2013, the top five specialty releases --"The Place Beyond The Pines," "Mud," "Quartet," "Spring Breakers" and "Before Midnight" -- had taken in $80.1 million. That was roughly on par with the $83.2 million the top five indies from the first half of 2012 grossed, and considerably up from $68.1 million in 2011 and just $45.2 million in 2010.
Thanks to "The Grand Budapest Hotel" ($58.5 million) and to a lesser degree "Chef" ($19.4 million) this year is well ahead of them all. Those two films alone grossed a total of $78 million, with "Belle," "Bad Words" and "The Railway Man" making up the rest of the top 5 and bringing the overall count to $99.8 million, up roughly 20% from last year. The only problem with that is how weighted the total amount was to just two films, meaning only so many folks are really benefiting. 2014 has so far seen less films cross the $15 million, $10 million, $5 million and $1 million milestones than any of the past 4 years. Take a look at this comparison:
2011 - 1 specialty films grossed $15 million+
2012 - 2 specialty films grossed $15 million+
2013 - 3 specialty films grossed $15 million+
2014 - 2 specialty films grossed $15 million+
2011 - 4 specialty films grossed $10 million+
2012 - 2 specialty films grossed $10 million+
2013 - 4 specialty films grossed $10 million+
2014 - 2 specialty films grossed $10 million+
2011 - 6 specialty films grossed $5 million+
2012 - 6 specialty films grossed $5 million+
2013 - 6 specialty films grossed $5 million+
2014 - 4 specialty films grossed $5 million+
2011 - 28 specialty films grossed $1 million+
2012 - 27 specialty films grossed $1 million+
2013 - 30 specialty films grossed $1 million+
2014 - 25 specialty films grossed $1 million+
But let's first focus on the upside: The success of "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is pretty mind-blowing and instills hope for the future of art house hits. It's the highest grossing film ever for director Wes Anderson, and #7 in the 20 year history of distributor Fox Searchlight (which between this and "12 Years a Slave" winning Best Picture is making for a very happy anniversary indeed). After opening to an all-time record per-theater-average (for a live action film) -- $202,792 from 4 theaters, the film chugged along at a very impressive pace, grossing over $1 million for 10 weekends straight, and still averaging over $1,000 per theater this past weekend, its 17th.
For a while there, it was almost the only major good news 2014 had seen from the specialty box office. January to March was a pretty slow ride, with only a handful of genuine success stories. Oddly, the main trio of them were all films that had clearly timed their releases to benefit from potential Oscar nominations in the foreign language and documentary categories, respectively: Sony Pictures Classics' Indian import "The Lunchbox," the Penn & Teller doc "Tim's Vermeer" and Roadside Attractions' Chilean film "Gloria." But in the end, India didn't submit "The Lunchbox," and the Academy snubbed both "Gloria" and "Tim's Vermeer." That didn't seem to matter to specialty filmgoers, though. "Gloria" took in $2.2 million, higher than all but one of the actual foreign language Oscar nominees. "Tim's Vermeer" remains the highest grossing documentary of 2014 six months later with $1.7 million, and "The Lunchbox" trumped them all by managing its way to a pretty incredible $4.2 million.
By spring, a few more hits popped up: Millennium managed $3.7 million out of John Turturro's "Fading Gigolo"; A24 saw success from the $2.5 million grossing Scarlett Johannson starrer "Under The Skin"; IFC and RADiUS-TWC found minor doc breakouts with "Fed Up" and "Finding Vivian Maier," each grossing around $1.4 million, and Music Box Films had a pair of significant successes in British drama "Le Week-end" ($2.2 million) and even more so in Polish import "Ida," which has rode critical acclaim to a $2.5 million (and counting) gross. But it wasn't until the late April one-two punch of Open Road's "Chef" and Fox Searchlight's "Belle" that we had full-fledge breakouts. The latter -- a 1700s-set British drama with no marketable stars, no less -- has grossed $9.7 million and should top out around $11 million. The former, which indeed had a lot more mainstream appeal on paper thanks to stars Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr, Dustin Hoffman and Scarlett Johannson, has taken in nearly $20 million with at least another $5 million where that came from.
That said, for every "Budapest Hotel" or "The Lunchbox" or "Ida" or "Chef," there were quite a few disappointments:
- Though it surely made up for it on VOD, Magnolia couldn't manage $1 million from either of the intensely hyped editions of Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac."
- A24 just managed that number from both "Locke" and "Enemy," and should soon see the same of "The Rover," but considering the appeal of stars Tom Hardy, Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Pattinson, respectively, one would have expected higher (A24 has had much more luck with female-driven films so far this year, with the aforementioned "Under The Skin" and recent opener "Obvious Child").
- Another indie star vehicle -- Jude Law in "Dom Hemingway" -- fared even worse, grossing only $523,511 for Fox Searchlight.
- David Gordon Green's "Joe" might have got some great reviews (notably for lead actor Nicolas Cage), but it could only drum up $373,375 at the box office.
- Jesse Eisenberg had two films come out this spring, both from widely acclaimed directors: Kelly Reichardt's "Night Moves" and Richard Ayoade's "The Double." But neither quite took off with audiences, grossing $208,307 and $162,322, respectively.
- Mike Myers' documentary "Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon" also fell below expectations, taking in $175,803 so far for RADiUS-TWC.
- While its $7.8 million gross remains the fourth highest for a specialty film so far in 2014, Focus Features surely had bigger dreams for Jason Bateman's "Bad Words," which was one of the biggest pick-ups out of Toronto last year. Interesting to note that this another example of a male-oriented film largely aimed at male
audiences -- which really is a trend through most of these "disappointments."
So into the second half of 2014 we go, with a lot of promise already in the immediate future. Very new releases "Begin Again," "Obvious Child" and "Snowpiercer" have shown a lot of promise so far, but it's just too early to call their ultimate success. And July has the likes of "Boyhood," "Magic In The Moonlight," "A Most Wanted Man" and "Happy Christmas" all en route, which could definitely get Q3 off to a very grand start.